The strategy game Victoria 3 was released on Steam on October 25th. MeinMMO author Schuhmann says: Other games are about killing a dragon with a group of knights. Victoria 3 is all about gross domestic product and debt. So much debt.
If you grew up like me, you learned a few things early on: be respectful of women and elders, don’t eat yellow snow, and don’t get into debt.
I was taught early on to only spend as much money as you have – no more.
Being in debt is hell. Actually it is strictly forbidden. You only take on debt once in your life: If you build a house, then it’s just okay.
But even then, debts only mean stress and agony: Because now you have to struggle for years to service the home savings contract, and you can only go on vacation again and sleep peacefully at night when it has been paid off.
I would never have thought of buying a television or a mobile phone on credit: I knew that was the sure way to ruin and to Peter Zwegat.
That’s why it was a strange moment for me when the then Finance Minister Olaf Scholz announced that he was fighting the corona pandemic “with the bazooka” by taking on an insane amount of debt. The consequences of the energy crisis, he later said as Chancellor, he would tackle with the “double boom”.
You will then repay the debt by “growing out of debt.” I could never understand what he meant. That has changed since I’ve been playing Victoria 3 on Steam.
This is the net new debt of Germany – you can see a “moderate” increase in 2020 and 2021.
More statistics can be found at extra
Well, the new strategy game Victoria 3 is all about debt and growth, at least if you choose to go that route. Victoria 3 gives you a choice at the start of how you want to play:
- If you want to build the perfect state with maximum freedom, then play France
- If you want to spread war over the world, take over half the globe with tanks, play Germany, i.e. Prussia
- But if you want to become the largest economic power on the planet, you choose the USA
Playing Victoria 3 with Prussia is an odd feeling: the game takes place from 1836 to 1936, and anyone who isn’t completely dumb knows why playing with Germany at that time is morally tricky.
While the game with the USA also touches on sensitive issues with slavery and the expulsion and extermination of Native Americans, at least I don’t have to invade France over Alsace-Lorraine.
Essentially, the US game revolves around economic growth: your goal is to have the largest economy in the world by 1936.
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Of course you can grow calmly and financially healthy…
With the USA you start small and the world is right. You have 35 construction units available, which means you can build 2 new factories within a year. That’s financially possible, the numbers remain green, everything is fine.
The capitalists in your country even help you to keep the budget with investments. Investing is a double-edged sword:
- When nothing is built, or at least nothing that is funded by capitalists, money accumulates in an investment pool
- When the pool is full, it creates a false sense of security as the budget looks good
- But as soon as the pool is empty and the state has to finance everything itself, you are confronted with reality: debt
So you have the choice:
- Build 2 factories and then sit idly in front of the monitor for 5 minutes and watch the useless gold reserves increase, but there is simply no economic growth.
- But you can also set up 6 new construction companies quickly and then build 4 factories at the same time: So grow twice as fast. But then you go into debt.
- You can also set up 12 new construction companies and then raise 8 factories at the same time. But then your budget shows a big, red minus. Hm!
MeinMMO author Gerd Schuhmann has been a fan of Paradox strategy games since 2004 and Crusader Kings 1. He has already spent 59 hours in Victoria 3 and was one of the first in the world to earn the “Economic Victory” achievement. At least that’s what the Steam Achievements say.
“We’re growing out of debt”
Ultimately, playing the USA, Victoria 3 revolves around growth and debt. Because the gag is: Debts are not that bad as a nation. In fact, you hardly notice them. You have to pay them off, but the numbers quickly become so huge that the interest rates hardly matter.
The problem has been reached when the “Default” state occurs, then you are so heavily in debt that the bank no longer gives you credit – all construction projects stop and you have to do something.
Then the only thing that really helps is national bankruptcy: All debts have been paid off, but you have to contend with severe restrictions for the next 10 years.
The “Default” state occurs in Victoria 3 when the debt level is a multiple of the gross domestic product. Conversely, this means:
- The higher the gross domestic product grows, the higher the credit limit grows and the higher one can borrow.
National debts tempt people to go the wrong way to the end
This leads to a very strange way of playing, because you actually know that things are going really badly right now and you are living beyond your means, but now you can’t possibly stop growing, because then the bank comes along:
- In the US one tends to go deep into debt while building up the iron, coal and steel industries. This is an economic cycle that indirectly includes tools, motors and explosives.
- This inevitably leads to the need to build infrastructure, i.e. ports, railways and administration.
- It’s a vicious circle, because you always need more mines to keep the raw material prices low so that tools, steel and engines are still reasonably cheap.
You quickly notice: I do nothing more than promote this branch of industry. Historically speaking, we know where this focus on coal and steel has led the United States: to the “Rust Belt” and Donald Trump.
But you are actually trying to get out of debt by simply doing more and more of what has already led you into the crisis: I have the feeling that I simply have to mine more coal in order to lower the production costs of steel to further boost growth.
The right decision would actually be to switch the economy to the production of luxury goods or, damn it, just grow more slowly and healthily.
Then you realize: Okay, something went wrong here, I’m flooding the world with coal and lead. But actually, historically speaking, I have to invent Coca-Cola and raise Hollywood – Where’s the switch for that?
But you can’t stop now, because then the gross domestic product would stagnate, but that has to grow so that the credit line continues to grow, which you can fully exploit.
That glorious brief moment when the budget goes green again
Victoria 3 depicts reality and between 1836 and 1936 there were always inventions that boosted production enormously. This is also the case in Victoria 3:
At some point, the promise of technical progress appeared on the horizon: Suddenly people were working in the mines with nitroglycerin and dynamite, in the fields with fertilizers, and finally even with tractors and electricity.
All of these are points at which the output of the factories, fields and mines suddenly takes a huge leap and you have a green budget again for a tiny moment:
- Now is actually the moment to lean back, reduce the mountain of debt and perhaps expand the economy moderately, take care of other industrial fields, perhaps build a few universities or open a new IKEA
Or… you set up more construction companies and coal mines. I can grow out of debt!
Playing Victoria made me feel like I had a better understanding of current political debates:-
- Like Christian Linder, I also hoped for the “technical progress” that would suddenly solve the misery I had gotten myself into
- Like Olaf Scholz, I didn’t see debt as a big problem: as long as gross domestic product is rising, you actually outgrow it in Victoria 3
- Only for Robert Habeck I didn’t develop any additional understanding while playing Victoria 3. The game has nothing to do with environmental protection and the climate crisis: I don’t even want to know what it would be like to live in my “USA” – with all the coal-fired power plants and without Hollywood, universities and Coca Cola
Victoria 3 is all about the economy, while Crusader Kings 3 is all about heirs:
Playing Crusader Kings 3 right breeds the “superman”